Jordan Larmour had his season all planned out.
Fresh from his star turn with the Ireland U20s this time last year, the youngster felt that a place on Leinster’s ‘A’ team was a realistic target. All going really well, he might even bank a couple of caps with the senior lads.
Larmour is still listed as an academy player on Leinster’s website. You’ll find him there between Terry Kennedy and Jeremy Loughman. But the speed of his ascent up the career ladder has left all of us playing catch-up.
“It has happened quite quickly and it just proves how hard work can pay off. If you had told me at the start of the season that I would be part of a Grand Slam winning team I wouldn’t have believed you at all. I’m very happy to be in the position I am at the moment.”
Eleven of the players Joe Schmidt used in this campaign had fewer than ten international caps to their name before the opener in Paris. None were more green than Larmour who made his debut off the bench against Italy in the second round.
There was the odd halting step as he took to the stage, but his cameo against England two days ago showed again the rapid rate of improvement that has allowed him and the other youngsters to find their feet with such assuredness.
It’s not as easy as they have made it look.
Carton House is a repository of efficiency under their Kiwi coach. Work doesn’t begin and end on the training pitch. It is a way of life, a culture that demands total immersion and a consistency of effort.
“You’re never really comfortable and that’s kind of a good thing because it keeps you on your toes,” said the Leinster back of his early days with the squad. “The first few weeks when you’ve come into camp are a bit daunting.
“You don’t really know any of the other lads who don’t play for Leinster but everyone fits in. Everyone is friendly and working to improve and get better. The work ethic in there is immense. It’s a good team.”
Well, that’s an understatement.
There was a sense when Ireland won their last Grand Slam, in 2009, that an end point had been reached given so many of those players had knocked at the door of a clean sweep through the noughties before finally making their grand entrance.
This time feels different.
Rory Best aside, none of those involved in recent weeks is older than 32. These are experienced, talented players still in their prime and catered for in a system that places a premium on their well-being.
And alongside those veterans now is a cohort of youth that has embraced their norms and values, learned from their examples and tuned into the frequency of a coach and staff that is melding short-term goals with long-term thinking.
These youngsters see nothing but opportunities to come.
It’s why Larmour could stand in Twickenham on Saturday night, a Grand Slam still fresh out of the oven, and cook up thoughts of a World Cup bid and the idea that there is still so much “more to come” from this generation of men.
Jacob Stockdale, too.
The Ulster man’s 11 tries in his first nine Test games stand as the greatest testament to the alacrity with which these kids have adapted to their elevated surrounds so it seemed perfectly normal that he should zero in on the biggest catch of them all.
The All Blacks.
“We’ve won a Grand Slam, that’s the first stepping stone to be being a really dominant team in world rugby,” said the 21-year old. “We’re sitting at number two in the (world) rankings. We’ll have a crack at New Zealand, we know we’ve a lot to work on.”
Ireland will get their next shot at the world champs next November.
“Joe (Schmidt) hasn’t come out and said New Zealand is the target. But our ambition is to be the best team in the world. We’re just going to keep working as hard as we can and see what happens.”
Everyone knew there was the potential for something special to happen given the talent that was bubbling away underneath the surface, but realising that is another thing and so too is the speed at which so much has already been accomplished.
“I know,” said Jonathan Sexton. “Dan Leavy’s performance (against England) was incredible. James Ryan … I hate the fact that they are all from St Michael’s, that drives me crazy. I wish a few more were coming out of St Mary’s.
“Look, they are exceptional rugby players and people. Hopefully they can keep their feet on the ground and have success going forward.”
Stockdale, for one, isn’t interested in terra firma. The big wing broke out into a wicked grin on Saturday night when asked just how many tries he could possibly end up with against his name after his sensational start to life in the green jersey.
“Flip, the sky is the limit, I guess,” he laughed.
It certainly seems to be.
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